Westtown School graduated its first cohort of students who successfully completed our Deep Dive Certificate Program. Starting six years ago I clerked two different committees over four years and worked with a number of other wonderfully creative and committed teachers and administrators to ask the questions and find the answers that helped create the program that led to this first for Westtown. These students have woven together projects across their curriculum, participated in experiences outside of the academic program, and created capstone projects that allowed for integration of what they were learning and thinking about their areas of interest. The three Deep Dive Certificates currently offered are in the areas of Global Leadership, Leadership for Sustainability, and Leadership in Social Entrepreneurship.
Molly is one of the this first cohort. She drew upon her experiences as the daughter of a New Jersey oyster farmer to spur her interest in sustainability. Using data gathered by HABCAM she accessed through Rutgers University, she looked at predator prey relationships of sea-stars, whelks and scallops as a part of her work in Applied Scientific Research. A member of Westtown’s Green Coalition, for one of her Deep Dive projects she helped create a list of companies committed to sustainability. This list was shared with Westtown students in time for them to do their December holiday shopping. She wrote a paper on logging in the Amazon for her Latin American History class and presented articles on Nuclear Energy for another class. Her capstone project was a two week internship with the San Francisco Estuary Institute. In her final presentation, she reflected on the ways in which she connected experiences in her religion elective with topics she was exploring in her science classes and with her experience working with Project PORTS at her home in Cape May. Her learning had meaning to her, her family’s livelihood and the communities she hopes to support as an adult. Over the two years she was creating interpretations for herself and building evidence based arguments to support her beliefs and scientific findings.
Originally, the Deep Dive Certificate Program was just an idea of creative teachers. We asked ourselves how we might create spaces and a structure that would support students who had questions and interests that were bigger than a single paper, class, discipline or experience. We had all read Tony Wagner’s Global Achievement Gap. We knew that Pat Bassett’s skills and values had deep resonance for us and our school’s mission. Further, I had just co-clerked a two year study to better shape what we meant by being a global school offering a global education. My Upper School colleagues working with my Lower and Middle School colleagues asked how our oldest students might experience their education in ways similar to the more holistic and less siloed environments of their younger peers. Equally important, we asked how we might do this within our existing rich curricular and co-curricular offerings. We admitted to ourselves that what we were creating would appeal to a subset of our students. Being a Friends’ school committed to equity we had to consider what this might mean. We also had to accept that in some cases, the students best suited and potentially most interested in this sort of sustained experience, might not be the early emerging academic “stars” of ninth and tenth grade. We needed a process that welcomed any interested student. This first cohort has proven out these truths. Only ten percent of the class of 2016 was ever interested in the program. Not every student who started it as a junior completed it. One of the students who managed to take every advantaged this program offered for her growth and exploration was not not an obvious candidate when she insisted she would participate. In her final presentation she told us that
“If you had asked me at the end of last year what I was going to do when I grow up, I would have said “oh, I’m going to be a business woman.” I chose to do the certificate of Entrepreneurship for Social Change because I want to change the world. Hi, I’m Hannah, and I think big.”
As I sat and listened to these students presentations this past May and have since read through their papers, reflections on experiences, and other documents in their portfolios, I take great pride in what we have created. I know that by focusing on our mission and seeing our students as partners and co-creators in their education we have set in motion a scaffold to hold and foster our students as change makers….”stewards and leaders for a better world.”